There are some places in the world that just seem to retain their history as if it was yesterday. Many of these abandoned ghost towns, such as the one in Kennecott, Alaska, appear to have been frozen in time, untouched for decades. Many have heard of this town that is perched precariously on the edge of a hillside, but not many know why the world is still so enamored by it.
What began as a mining boom soon became just the opposite, and all that remains today is the skeleton of a town that was once a pioneer in its industry.
How Kennecott Came To Be
As with any mining town, the origin story of Kennecott began when copper ore was discovered in the surrounding mountains. At the time, which was the year 1900, electricity was beginning to reign over what was soon to be the next industrial revolution. A large part of this was copper due to its unique conduction properties, making the discovery of copper ore one of major significance. The town, which sits in a fairly remote part of northeastern Alaska, was once known for nothing but its hiking trails. It sits perched on the edge of the Kennicott Glacier (spelled differently from the town), which is where a pair of prospectors, Clarence Warren and Jack Smith, happened to be hiking on the fateful day when copper ore was spotted in its mountains. The outcrop of copper ore was about 100 miles from the closest sign of civilization, which was in Valdez, thus spurring the need to create a town around the mines themselves - of which there were several.
As with any mining boomtown, the success of creating such a money-oriented town was short-lived. Kennecott's mountains only had so much copper ore to be mined and with limited supply, there were a few decades, at most, that its residents could count on. The Kennecott Mining Corporation was established in 1903 and by 1925, a geologist was predicting the depletion of copper ore. Within the next decade, the town was abandoned entirely and has sat, empty, since 1938.
Conditions In The Mines
It's no secret that mining has never been a glamorous job and, more often than not, it was incredibly dangerous. Alaska's copper mines brought with them the added threat of temperatures that sometimes dropped to 40 below zero, which would have been exacerbated by the conditions within and under the mountains. Building a railroad in -40 below zero was no walk in the park, either, and the crew responsible for this feat was led by Michael J. Heney, who had constructed the White Pass & Yukon Railroad. The railroad to Kennecott alone took four years.
After this was completed, the Kennecott Mining Corporation lured miners in with a lucrative offer that ended up being the highest of any mining operation in the country. Bunkhouses were built for miners despite the fact that they worked seven days a week, which left little downtime to relax and recover. By the end of it, the Kennecott Mining Corporation had made $200 million dollars from their copper ore mining operation.
Visiting Kennecott Today
Today, visitors interested in seeing Kennecott up-close and personal can take tours with St. Elias Alpine Guides. This is the best way to see the abandoned mining town not only for safety reasons but also because the tour group is permitted to take visitors through restricted areas.
Some of the tour highlights include:
- Dairy Barn
- Kennicott Recreation Hall
- School House
- Kennicott Glacier Lodge
- West Bunkhouse
- Refrigeration Plant
- Company Store & Post Office
- Sawmill & Carpentry Shop
- Train Depot
- National Creek Bunkhouse
- Assay Office
- East Bunkhouse
- General Manager's Office
- Ammonia Leaching Plant
- Concentration Mill
- Power Plant
- Machine Shop
- Electrical Shop
Many of these buildings stand in surprisingly well-preserved condition to this day, and touring Kennecott is akin to stepping back into a unique time during Alaska's history.
Where To Stay
While there are not many places to spend the night in this remote area of Alaska, the Blackburn Cabins do offer an 11-minute accommodation down the road from Kennicott. Located in McCarthy, these rustic and cozy cabins offer lodging in the Wrangell Mountains. Interested guests can also take a custom glacier hike, which is a unique part of the experience of visiting Kennicott. Complimentary bikes are offered and the town of McCarthy is only a short hike away, making these cabins the perfect centrally-located home base.
- Cost: $169/cabin for up to two people, $25 for each additional guest